Matthew 18:21 (NIV) "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.' "
The pain in my left thumb was deep. While I cleaned up some broken glass a fractured piece penetrated my finger. I dislodged a decent chunk and the immediate pain decreased, but over the next week a large bump developed inside the injury site. There was still glass in my thumb. It didn't hurt unless I pressed on it so I just left it alone, figuring it would work itself out in time.
Nine months later I woke up early one morning to a throbbing, swollen, scarlet thumb. It was infected and I knew the cause. You wouldn't think something so small could create such pain but I could barely touch it without wincing.
The once comfortable shard of glass grew irritated and needed extracted. After a few hefty squeezes, a shout or two, and some blood and puss paving the way, a very large slice of glass exited itself.
This broken glass incident reminds me of the brokenness we all have in our lives. We each possess a tattered heart in need of healing regarding personal injuries inflicted on us . Whether a hurtful comment, judgmental action or harsh treatment we have each felt the hurtful sting at the hands of others.
Some hurts are big and obvious while others are smaller and harder to see. Still others can be so small we may not realize they are there until they create an infection.
During our seventeen years of ministry, there was a three year stint that proved one of the most injurious to my husband and I. He received scathing remarks from a gentleman who continually questioned, ridiculed and undermined his ministry. This man even made personal attacks on my husband's integrity.
Every lashing this man delivered was unwarranted. He stepped out of line more times than I can count. To my husband's credit, he administered Matthew 18 over and over, but to no avail.
After my husband had a few run-ins with this man, I began to feel extreme irritation towards him. To see the hurt and dejection this caused in my husband brought pain to my heart too. Every part of my human nature cried out for justice. I couldn't even look at this man in the face on Sunday morning because what I really wanted to do was, well . . . down flesh, down!
Like the shattered glass, I was broken in our situation and a shard of bitterness penetrated deeply and took root in my heart. In my hurt I felt lonely, unsupported and betrayed. This wound festered into anger that began to contaminate my life. I didn't like who I was becoming. I was mad and my thoughts were shameful.
Not long into this three year process God intervened. During a quiet morning of prayer, I was on my face before the Lord and empty for words on this matter. I just began to sob and couldn't stop. Tears burst forth from the depths of my crushed soul. I knew my husband was treated poorly, but I also knew my heart was bankrupt for love but was getting richer with resentment towards this man.
God gently rebuked me. I confessed, repented and blubbered some more. It was healing for me to bring my brokenness to God. I was like a child with a damaged toy asking, "Fix it God. Fix it." In God's profound love, He whispered to my heart, "I'm going to fix you instead, Hester." My Redeemer needed to dig out the pollution growing within me.
The key verse from Matthew 18:21-22 preludes the parable of the unmerciful servant in verses 23-35. Based on our own sinfulness and inability to pay our debt, Jesus is point blank in how we are to mercifully treat others when they hurt us. We too, must forgive their debt, no matter how many times they wound us.
In verse 21 Peter asks how many times he is required to forgive when a brother sins against him. Notice he says, "brother". A fellow teammate, one perhaps you wouldn't expect pain from. Common teaching among Jews only required forgiveness three times. Peter more than doubled his mercy by suggesting seven times. When Jesus responds with seventy-seven times, He is blowing Peter's notion out of the water.
Over time and nothing short of a miracle, God enabled me to forgive this man even though he continued to bully my husband. I refused to be a bitter pastor's wife because I knew the wreckage it created in my life, ministry and relationship with my Lord.
Through many tears God birthed in my heart love and compassion for this man, who at this point I could have cared less for. I made eye contact on Sundays, smiled and even initiated hand shakes.
Then, God really blew the lock off. While on my knees one day I sensed God wanted me to pray for blessing on this man. What! Blessing for him. Lord, (I began to debate) I've forgiven him but, You know he doesn't deserve . . . ."Do it Hester, just do it."
I clenched my teeth and more tears puddled on the carpet. My heart and tongue were in a tug-of-war. Finally, I relented and through snot and sobs I earnestly prayed for God to bless this man, his wife and his family. What a release.
For my once bitter heart to seek blessing on this brother was true victory. These prayers happened almost daily because I had to force myself not to allow my flesh to win this battle. With time, exercising mercy became easier despite the personal pain this man caused.
God transformed my heart to extend forgiveness that I don't even deserve myself. God granted me patient endurance during this affliction. Through it, God worked in me and out of me many character flaws and weaknesses. He also taught me how to really love the unlovable.
The irony of this incident is that my thumb was penetrated with the busted glass in the midst of this three year trial. God used this experience to show me what happens when bitterness is harbored in my heart. Hostility will stay buried within until infection sets in and we are forced to address the disease.
The only way to discharge this animosity is to forgive. Forgiveness releases others from the punishment our flesh would like to inflict on the perpetrator. We cannot biblically forgive without Christ's power because it stems from the supernatural.
Forgiveness also recognizes all that we've been forgiven of. We had a debt we could never repay and it cost Christ His life to buy our redemption. How can we withhold mercy from another when we consider our filthy rags of sin that Christ forgave?
When we experience brokenness and hurt from others, God can mend us to experience wholeness. Through the power of forgiveness, God repairs the shattered pieces, the suffering and hardship we endure. He transforms brokenness into a beautiful mosaic exuding God's glorious mercy.
Find a concordance to look up key verses related to your personal trials or other verses offering encouragement. Write these scriptures on index cards and carry them with you this week to memorize.
Who has injured your heart? Earnestly seek God in making your heart right with Him and them.
What past hurts hold you captive? What issues from your past need properly dealt with?
How can your brokenness bring glory to God? How does your suffering produce patient endurance?
Heart Changing Word:
Psalm 34:18 (NIV) "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Psalm 147:3 "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."
Matthew 6:14 "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
Matthew18:35 "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
2 Corinthians 2:10b-11 "I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might no outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."
Colossians 3:13 "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
James 1:2 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Copyright 2011 by Hester Christensen. All rights reserved.